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On the Trail: Whitehall Just One of Area's Treasures by Melissa Hall

With the New Year many people renew their fitness by becoming more active. While many may hit the gym, the yoga studio or other indoor fitness opportunities — don’t forget the outdoors! We are fortunate in the Sandhills to have great trails, such as the Whitehall Trail in Southern Pines.

Peaceful Walk

image of Whitehall TrailThe portion measured and mapped by Southern Pines Recreation Department is 1.2 miles, but the entire loop is two miles. Little used, it is quiet and peaceful and popular with dogs and their owners. It is open to walkers, cyclists and hikers, but not equestrians. It is also “child-friendly” because of its short length and character.

A meandering and minimally maintained trail, it features pleasant rises and descents. Left largely in its natural state, the trail is covered with leaves, pine straw and sand, and may be rutted and rooty, depending on the season and what Mother Nature has recently wrought.

The trail came about through a unique joint effort between the town, a land trust and private landowners.

“We can thank the Sandhills Area Land Trust (SALT), the Southern Pines Greenway (led by the Southern Pines Parks and Recreation Department) and the generosity of current and former landowners for working together to preserve this land for our use and for future generations,” says a user.

In 1991, the property owner David Drexel approached the newly formed SALT to establish a conservation easement and his land became SALT’s first success. Working with landowners more than 22 years, SALT has continued to put land in preservation on 79 properties and more than 13,500 acres in Moore County.

The conservation easement on the Whitehall trails means it will be kept undeveloped with a walking trail for public use forever, even as it passes to new owners as it did when Drexel sold the property. In exchange, the property owner enjoys tax benefits and provides benefit for the public.

Nancy Talton, the executive director of SALT, is enthusiastic about the accessibility of this community project.

SALT has worked with The O’Neal School and Sandhills Community College environmental clubs to provide an “outdoor classroom” of sorts. The Whitehall Trail has been one of the paths that leads SALT to create and sustain cooperative partnerships, develop environmental educational ideas, and helps to foster and build a working relationship with the community we serve.

Preservation Options

Many people may not be aware that there are so many viable options for landowners considering alternate use of their property or seeking to preserve existing land operations. There are funding partner options including private, non-profit and government programs, each adapted to suit the landowner’s goals.

SALT fosters and protects our cultural and natural resources while helping to maintain open land and preserve a diverse habitat for the benefit of the public.

Recent efforts protect the borders of the drinking water source, Drowning Creek, ensuring that it will stay safe for consumption, unpolluted from run-off and other hazards, filtering the water and providing a rich habitat corridor for wildlife.

SALT has worked with the Department of Defense and the “Compatible Use Buffer” program to provide no-impact training areas and helping to prevent conflict of activities in designated areas.

Working with the N.C. Department of Agriculture, SALT helps farmers keep land in production through environmental protection programs such as conservation easements. The tax benefits support farmers ability to remain productive and profitable, growing produce for our farmer’s markets and consumer supported agriculture programs such as Farm-to-Table.

Agriculture is the largest industry in the county so it is important to protect our dwindling farmlands. According to the Census of Agriculture, Moore County lost 20,000 acres from farms between the 2002 and 2007. This places the county tied for third in greatest losses per county in North Carolina, which is the most rapidly urbanizing state in the nation.

Outdoor Environment

SALT’s efforts and accomplishments may seem far from our every day life at times. However, they have helped create the outdoor environment that is an important part of the character of the Sandhills.

Walking trails, beautiful farmland and forests and the availability of local food are some of the important reasons people move here to retire or to start businesses and raise families.

Increasingly, creating outdoor amenities and preservation of “open space” — public land, private forests, tribal forests, ranches, farms, and other undeveloped lands — is important to a community’s success and growth. These elements act as levers to lure and retain businesses and individuals, increase property values and the overall health of community members.

Contact Nancy Talton at (910) 695-4323 or see www.sandhillslandtrust.org, to learn more about how SALT brings benefit to the community.

Melissa Hall is a local freelance writer.